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Food & Drink

Starbucks Revamps Sandwiches in a Bid to Defend Its Breakfast Turf

Starbucks's reduced-fat turkey bacon sandwich

Courtesy Starbucks

Starbucks's reduced-fat turkey bacon sandwich

Starbucks (SBUX) may be talking a lot about plans to boost in-store sales in the afternoon and reach more grocery store shoppers, but the company hasn’t forgotten its core breakfast business. Today marks the debut of four new breakfast sandwiches: ham and swiss on a croissant; spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and cheese on ciabatta; egg and cheddar on toast; and a lower-calorie egg white, bacon, and cheese on English muffin.

With about half of Starbucks’s sales are made before 11 a.m., the new salvo of sandwiches comes at a time when the coffee chain is trying to defend its turf from increasingly aggressive rivals. Quick-service chains traditionally less focused on mornings, such as McDonald’s (MCD) and Burger King (BKW), are moving to increase breakfast sales, while even a non-contender like Taco Bell (YUM) is preparing to enter the morning fray later this month.

Starbucks’s new English muffin breakfast sandwich—similar to McDonald’s Egg White Delight McMuffin—will now contain only 230 calories, compared to more than 300 calories previously. That brings it in line with McDonald’s 250-calorie sandwich in a play for health-conscious diners.

Starbucks is also offering distinct items such as the savory ciabatta sandwich with sun dried tomatoes that customers can’t easily get from a competitor. “These new offerings are in response to what our customers have been asking for like more variety of breakfast sandwich offerings, such as an option with a croissant, a more veggie-forward, and a lower calorie,” said Starbucks spokeswoman Megan Adams in an e-mail.

Starbucks has served breakfast sandwiches since 2003. During a January earnings call, the chain’s then-chief financial officer, Troy Alstead, said that food is now “a disproportionate driver to” Starbucks’s comparable sales, noting that croissant sales have doubled since it launched a new, upgraded product by La Boulange. Still, he cautioned that the new food program “is a very complex roll-out” in terms of labor, product assortment, marketing, and display.

The sandwich strategy is also a way to keep coffee sales flowing. More loyal food customers, after all, should boost beverage sales.

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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